In 1949, Borges published a story called The Zahir. In the story, the Zahir is an object that so fascinates the possessor that it consumes them, swallowing up their whole reality. As that ill-fated narrator tells us, any object, animal, or person can become the Zahir to its victim. For him it was a coin, for another it was a tiger. He told the story of his world slipping away from him, becoming replaced instead with a monomaniacal focus on this coin, even though he had rid himself of the object itself almost immediately.
I think that any field of study can become the Zahir to the student. They start to see the world solely in terms of their fascination. This shows up in every field–there is no shortage of science-flavored crackpots. Perpetual motion machines, patent medicines, failed alchemies, and dowsing rods litter the record, and will show up frequently on this blog.
But it is valuable to remember that the Zahir is a sickness of the human mind, and will latch itself onto any system. For the practically minded obsessed, who at once want to share their vision and to jealously protect it, the patent system is a natural outlet. And that brings us to the God Calling Watch:
At its heart, the idea seems to be a device that reminds the user to perform whatever prayer, rituals, and evangelism are required of them, along with an audio component to read scripture out. And, if the device were described in that manner, it might at least have been in the ballpark of what could be patentable. Instead, though, the application has a lot of this:
The Lord has revealed a solution to me which will strengthen, bring Unity and Oneness in the body of Christ. This method process will serve as a blueprint to Christians in all denominations. The process will help Christians to apply the instructions given repeatedly by God himself, woven throughout his word. The new use device of watches and the process applied to cellular phones, iPads and iPods will be used to exalt the word of God. Christians will now have a useful device to help them pull down strong holds, to cast down imaginations and everything that exalt it’s self against the knowledge of God, and to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.USPP 2012/0288836 — Abstract
The patent application was rejected, on the basis of its being non-patentable subject matter and on the basis of its technical features having been done before. One feature was called out in particular as not having been enabled, which is worth sharing:
f. producing mass energy by said christians calling on the lord of all said denominations causing the light to appear whereby pulling the lord down by said energy, E=mc2 urging him to appear by his people.USPP 2012/0288836 — Claim 11
At the end of the day, this patent application is not particularly weird. After all, it’s just a watch that recites scripture to you and reminds you to text bible verses at your family. Instead, it tells a story about obsession, which transmuted an earnest desire to help people into a farce.
While the Patent Office is a stage where the Zahir frequently gets top billing, I think there’s a cautionary tale to be found in the inventor’s own words. When trying to argue for her invention’s patentability, she said, “Please consider the corrections made; as I was unable to find a Patent Attorney to assist me.” If even my profession won’t take your money, consider finding another way to bring your message to the world.